Thursday, October 29, 2009


Last night, together with ten others, I completed an eight week program of preparation to become a compassionate companion to those whose life is ending . The program is sponsored by the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, and for ten years has prepared doulas to help the dying experience their final moments peacefully and with personal meaning. “Doula” is the Greek word for servant and is commonly associated with the activity of birth. This term is now applied to the task of accompanying seriously ill patients through the process of dying. To be a doula, a servant of life, is a great privilege. In the words of Rachel Naomi Remen, “When I help, I have a feeling of satisfaction, but when I serve I have a feeling of gratitude.”
To serve in the capacity of doula to the dying is to act as an “empty vessel” into which the dying person can pour her fears, his hopes, her rage and his pain, and feel comforted that the compassionate companion will not judge, recriminate or moralize but listen lovingly and through compassionate acceptance affirm the dying person’s dignity and humanity.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve not as a rabbi or a social worker-professions for which I have been schooled and trained-but simply as Henry, as another human being who hopefully will discover in his heart the capacity to care for another human being.
Finally, my gratefulness is particularly poignant because the class has been blessed with the teaching presence of two extraordinary social workers and human beings, instructors not only in the skills of human service but in the wisdom of the human heart. Not once did a word of judgment or insensitivity cross their lips; not once did anyone ever feel anything but the profoundest respect and compassion from these women; their honesty ,love and dedication to compassionate service, reflected an authenticity of soul so rare in today’s world of self concealment and the need to be rigidly perfect and untouchable. They were indeed model “doulas” who brought comfort and joy, and a spiritual discovery to people from every walk of life, enabling, encouraging and inspiring.
To all doulas:
Blessings for a future of abundant gratefulness.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I was on the bus for about four hours; I was traveling alone.
Other passengers read, wrote, slept or listened to their IPods. I feel nausea if I read or write on a moving motor vehicle, I wasn’t tired and I don’t own an IPod! What was I to do for the duration of the trip?
I spent the time thankfully and creatively. I gazed out the window at the passing spectacle of luscious colors, leaves preparing to take leave of their branches and float downward to their demise, but not before a stunning display of color-they would make their exit with all the drama contained in brilliant yellows, oranges and reds.
Of course my mind was awash with reels of thought and associations. I focused on the beauty of the outside, the joys of simply speeding along a highway, and the relationship of mother and daughter in front of me. The mother was elderly, the daughter, an adult. They spoke a foreign language, perhaps German. I was unable to catch their words clearly. But what I did perceive was their simple love and joy of sitting together. They chatted, shared pretzels and baby carrots, giggled at digital pictures the daughter was taking, and when feeling tired she snuggled up to her mother’s body to catch a carefree nap while a mother’s hand lovingly rested on her head. Not once did a harsh or impatient word pass between them; I was witness to a picture of the joy of simply being together.
I was also blessed with thoughts that were creative that helped me clarify some ideas I was considering at the time. I was grateful that such clarification arrived.
Being alone and quiet can be a great gift . Was I bored? Not for a moment. After all, is life boring?
Furthermore, I was grateful for a safe trip. And oh yes, my gratitude was overflowing for the readily available restroom at the rear of the bus!
Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I was stunned. Standing in front of the counter that prepares samples at Trader Joe’s I was told that Gio had died. I stood still, a shudder ran through my body; I was surprised by the intensity of my reaction.
Gio was the nice Italian lady who stood behind the counter and dished out samples of luscious food. At each visit to Trader Joe’s, the counter is my first destination. As I pour a small cup of the featured coffee of the day, I exchange greetings with Gio and within seconds we would be talking about opera; she loved the opera. Her only complaint about the world of contemporary opera was the loss of the formality that reigned in opera houses of yesterday. She bemoaned the excessive informality of those who attended opera as if to suggest that improper dress was an act of blasphemy, a sin against the sanctity of opera’s holy of holies. She shared her early experiences of opera attendance when everyone “dressed up” for the long-awaited occasion; “that’s when opera was opera!”
Our conversations were brief, friendly, but not terribly personal.
Yet, they spiced up the special flavors of the coffee and the morsels of pancake or beer bread so many sampled. In a real sense, the few minutes with Gio represented being in one’s kitchen, being home. Perhaps that is why her death came as such a shock, such a loss.
I am grateful for those passing moments; they will be remembered.
Ciao, Gio.